It's a rarity for undergraduates to perform original musicals at any academic institution. Millikin University's Department of Theatre & Dance has taken the rarity to new heights this fall with its new performance, "String." Audiences will witness the first full production of this musical that was first developed through Millikin University's New Musicals Workshop in January 2011.
Millikin University's New Musicals Workshop is a program that offers students and faculty opportunities to collaborate with professional writing teams as they develop new musicals intended for commercial production. The collaboration provides students with a valuable first-hand look into the process of developing and rehearsing a new musical from the ground up.
"String" is a myth story about the three Greek Fates in the modern city responsible for measuring the threads of human life. It focuses on a workaholic Greek god, Atropos, the oldest and most severe fate, who gets tangled up with a security guard in the basement of the tallest building in the world. One mistake leads to another – a lost pair of scissors, a kiss, a stolen string - and soon Atropos is breaking her own rules to offer "forever" to an ordinary man. It's a diverse ensemble musical about sisters, offices, and love. "String" music and lyrics are written by Adam Gwon and book by Sarah Hammond. The choreography is led by Millikin alumna Britt-Marie Sivertsen '10.
"In 2010 we contacted playwright Adam Gwon about doing a workshop and he said he had been working on a project with Sarah Hammond," said Lori Bales, director of "String" and Millikin associate professor of theatre and dance. "We received a draft of the story in January 2011 and worked on it as part of Millikin's New Musicals Workshop. The story has had a great trajectory because it's hard for young writers to get this kind of development."
Adam Gwon is an award-winning composer and lyricist. He was named one of "50 to Watch" by The Dramatist magazine. His honors include the Fred Ebb Award for excellence in musical theater songwriting, the ASCAP Harold Adamson Award, and the MAC John Wallowitch Award.
Sarah Hammond is the author of "Green Girl," "Kudzu," "The Extinction of Felix Garden," and "House on Stilts." Her honors include the Heideman Award (Actors Theatre of Louisville), two MacDowell Colony Fellowships, a residency at the Royal National Theatre in London, and commissions from South Coast Repertory Theatre and Broadway Across America.
Gwon came to Millikin in late October to work with the cast on new songs and scenes. Sarah Hammond also worked with the cast in early November.
"Sarah and I came to Millikin in January 2011 for the New Musicals Workshop without a finished draft of the story," said Gwon. "We spent that time writing the rest of the draft and since then we have done two readings. This production at Millikin is our first incarnation in which everything is up on its feet. It's really exciting to see everything come together and musically it's been exciting because I wrote the show with a large ensemble in mind, and the ensemble is used in a number of ways. It's very satisfying to hear the music as I imagined it."
The show features 17 student cast members including Sean Doherty, a senior musical theatre major from Hampshire, Ill., who saw the New Musicals Workshop of "String" as a first year student.
"You have to make your best judgment of what the writers are intending for the show," said Doherty. "The New Musicals program at Millikin is fantastic and being in a workshop environment is so fast and it's great because you learn so much in such a short period of time. One of my favorite parts about 'String' is that everyone takes away something different about the show. It's a universal show that is really funny and can be very moving."
Anastasia Arnold, a senior musical theatre major from Huntley, Ill., says "It's really great that Millikin is able to do this type of production because not many schools can, and it's an incredible opportunity to be a part of the collaborative process. The challenging aspect is that we might have a change in a scene or a song that we have to work on right away – it's good practice. It's an amazing opportunity to be able to work with new and up-and-coming writers, and this is something that will definitely help with our careers."
Bales added, "The story is completely original, but it's really about the fall. The story talks about how life is wiped clean and how the characters have to adjust. The production is very touching and sad, and the story highlights three sisters who together must learn what's important. It's a beautiful show."
For more information on Millikin's Department of Theatre & Dance, visit www.millikin.edu/theatre